John Eaden


In his third exhibition, John Eaden's work invites us to consider the human situation. Even in his landscapes where no figures stand, it is their absence that we feel. In his portraits, truncated figures, solid in themselves, exist within a restricting and frustrating environment, hedged in by structural imagery and insubstantial forms. His Trapeze Artist series is an eloquent metaphor examining the contortions of man the performer, engaged in a solitary and exposing ritual.

from the Trapeze Artist
series 1982
oil on board, 365 x 303
(Closet Artists)

Contemporary alienation hangs heavy in all these images. As the ever-has-been-and-ever-shall-be gap between aspiration and realisation is yet more cruelly exposed by the breakdown of the traditional comforts of social and family structure, the human figure is isolated indeed. But with the challenge to religion by science, and the undermining of science by religion (amorality in harness with potency) contemporary alienation has become overwhelming. This vastly unsettling situation has led to an expansion of the only certainty remaining: the self.  Eaden's portraits show us contemporary heroes, equal to the burden of self, undiminished by the petty restrictions that enclose them. They look steadfastly beyond the viewer, into a realm of certainty. In spite of their enigmatic circumstances of restraint, they are resolute, unflinching and authoritative. It points to an impressive vindication of the human spirit.

The Trapeze Artist series (I-IV) shows us a more vulnerable contemporary figure. As a performer, the trapeze artist must work to harness the restrictions of gravity to his own ends (literally): while forever being at the mercy of this disinterested force. As the trapeze artist hangs straight downwards (I), in an almost reversed crucifix image, we are seeing the exposure of any creative work - any work that says 'this is my flesh and blood'. The figure is painted against an ominous black background, where a fretwork of ropes and stays provide a fragile support system. The body is painted in ghoulish shades of green and grey, evoking figures from a horror movie: while a pathetic red garment provides sanctity for the sexual organs. Yellow braces add a clownish touch. This isolated and spotlit figure goes through a brave ritual of human endeavour, searching for symmetry, lift, grace. In the final image (IV) the body twists to the ground, away from the security of the safety net. The audience is invisible throughout. The isolation of the artist is terrifying.

oil on ceramic
(Closet Artists)

Eaden's use of colour is powerful, and all his own. Maroons, blues, strange earthy reds and ochres are sickened with yellows and greens from some disquieting biology - radiated with unearthly whites that suggest phosphorescence. Blacks and near blacks glow with gloomy oiliness. But reds and oranges lift what would otherwise be a depressing palette into areas where heat radiates and energy is born.

Eaden's greatest strength is that he is able to paint paradox. His structural forms (in the portraits) look transparent and solid at the same time. His flesh (in the Trapeze Artist series) looks both dead and alive. His landscapes (Kaipara I-IV) feel expansive and yet tight. His solid planes stand up and lie down in a perpetual motion of unaccountability. His brushwork is casual and accurate. His outlines are hesitant but firm. His vision is simultaneously child-like and sophisticated. The human ability to entertain irreconcilable views simultaneously may turn out to be our greatest virtue. (It is certainly one that a computer is unable to emulate.) It is this real/unreal flavour that Eaden evokes so successfully in his paintings. If paradox is a reality which diminishes intelligence, destroying logic and aping foolishness, then Eaden's subjects remain unbowed. Human endeavour is a perpetually renewing force: and if only the brave can know the real, so much the better.
(Closet Artists)